Text by James Bow
Bessarion is arguably the most infamous subway station on the Toronto network. Its sin is not as a haven for crime or being the site of some horrific act, but that it is far and away the least used subway station on the TTC (although Ellesmere station on the SCARBOROUGH RT carries just over half as many passengers — 1,410 to Bessarion’s 2,380 average weekday riders, according to 2014 statistics — it is not technically a subway station but an “RT” station). A lot of media attention has been given to this fact, and even as the SHEPPARD subway was being built, there were critics who said that the station should not have been built. This has given Bessarion station an almost folkloric reputation, with it being called a “ghost station”, and videos being made about finding it.
Bessarion station is located at the intersection between Sheppard Avenue East and the cross-streets of Bessarion Road and Burbank Drive. Until the 1950s, the area was largely rural, before suburban sprawl moved through. Plans for a northern crosstown rapid transit line materialized in the late 1960s, and in the late 1970s North York Mayor Mel Lastman backed the proposal to build a subway beneath Sheppard Avenue as part of his plan to build a subway crossroads at the Sheppard/Yonge intersection as a catalyst to develop North York’s new downtown. After lengthy debates and negotiations (detailed here), the Ontario government approved funding for a first phase of the SHEPPARD subway in 1994, running from Yonge Street to Don Mills.
Initial plans for the SHEPPARD subway called for stops roughly every kilometre, at major streets such as Bayview, Leslie and Don Mills, and at mid-block points like Bessarion, Consumers Road and Willowdale. The planned stop at Willowdale never made it past the design phase to reduce costs and due to a lack of density in the area. As the construction costs for the SHEPPARD subway ballooned in the late 1990s, planners noted that Bessarion station could be cut for a savings of $30 million.
Mayor Mel Lastman and TTC Chairman Howard Moscoe opposed the move, because it would have rendered the SHEPPARD subway even more of a stub service. They also argued that the station could become a catalyst for development in and around the area. At the time, the accepted goal of the SHEPPARD subway was to try and increase the density of Sheppard Avenue East, creating a more urban and pedestrian friendly environment. Cutting Bessarion would mean subway stops every two kilometers along Sheppard Avenue, and would not be conducive to a consistent urban environment along the length of the line.
Additional funding was secured by the City of Toronto to cover the budget overruns, and work continued on building Bessarion station. It opened to the public with the rest of the SHEPPARD subway on November 24, 2002.
Outside, Bessarion station has two modest entrances on either side of Sheppard Avenue, east of Burbank Drive and Bessarion Road. The south-side entrance features stairs, escalators and an elevator while the north-side entrance has only a flight of stairs and is not wheelchair accessible. Both entrances lead down to a single concourse level. These entrance buildings have a similar architectural appearance as Bayview station further west, with large glass windows and flat concrete roofs.
The station itself is modest by SHEPPARD standards, but large for the number of people using it. Passengers walk through a single concourse level, pay their fare at the fare gates and collectors booth, and proceed via elevator, or one of two sets of stairs and escalators to the platform level below. Yellow tiles cover the walls of the concourse and platform level (within the public area) while red tiles cover the support columns. The station walls opposite the platforms follow the SHEPPARD standard of bare concrete, with station names displayed using plastic panels.
There is space for a Gateway Newsstand in the concourse level, but it has been closed for some time. There is no bus terminal; paper transfers are required to connect from the subway to 85 SHEPPARD EAST buses stopping on the street.
Bessarion station features the art installation of Passing, by Sylvie Bélanger, with photographs printed on white tiles of the backs of people’s heads, legs or bodies. According to the artist, it seeks to “capture the memory of the people who have used the station in the past and anticipates those who will use it in the future”.
Although woefully underused for the past fifteen years, Bessarion station may finally see an upswing of traffic as the area south and east of the station is redeveloped with higher density commercial and residential buildings. It may take longer for the station to shed its reputation, however, or its mythic quality.
Service Notes (as of January 1, 2017):
- Off-Site Resources:
- Line: 4 Sheppard
- Hours of Operation:
First Train to Don Mills: 5:36 a.m. weekdays, 5:52 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 7:59 a.m. Sundays.
First Train to Sheppard-Yonge: 5:35 a.m. weekdays, 5:51 a.m. Saturdays/holidays, 8:09 a.m. Sundays.
Last Train to Don Mills: 2:18 a.m.
Last Train to Sheppard-Yonge: 2:29 a.m.
- Address: 731 Sheppard Avenue East
- Opened: November 22, 2002
- Wheelchair Accessible Since: November 22, 2002 (upon opening)
- Average Weekday Ridership: 2,380 (2014), 2,550 (2013), 2,080 (2011), 2,300 (2010)
- Sheppard Avenue Entrance, South side, located on the south side of Sheppard Avenue East, 40 metres east of Bessarion Road, with elevator, escalator and stair access to Concourse Level (Wheelchair Accessible)
- Sheppard Avenue Entrance, North side, located on the north side of Sheppard Avenue, 41 metres east of Burbank Drive, with stair access to Concourse Level (Not Wheelchair Accessible)
- Elevators (click here for maintenance schedule):
- Main Entrance to Concourse
- Concourse to Platform
- Escalators (click here for maintenance schedule):
- Main Entrance To Concourse (Down At All Times)
- Main Entrance To Concourse (Up At All Times)
- Concourse To Platform (Up At All Times)
- Concourse To Platform (Down At All Times)
- Parking: None
- Centre platform
- Presto Gates Installed (as of November 2016)